Written by Michel Fortin. Originally published on seoplus.com.
- What shapes their perception of reviews
- How to manage your reputation in three steps
- How to deal with negative reviews
- Your reputation is an SEO signal
Your reputation is influenced by the reviews people leave about you, your offerings, or your business. As part of what Google calls E-A-T (i.e., expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness), online reviews are strong indicators of trustworthiness — an important ranking signal. Therefore, maintaining and enhancing your online reputation should be a part of your SEO efforts.
Also called reputation management, improving your online reviews is an increasingly popular offering among SEO agencies. At seoplus+, we often include it as part of a holistic SEO strategy. The goal is to increase the quality and quantity of online reviews, which will improve your reputation, increase your prominence in search results, and boost your visibility among local SEO listings.
More importantly, increasing the number of reviews adds social proof and influences other factors such as believability. They may not all be perfect, but a few less-than-desirable reviews are, in some cases, desirable. For example, a business with 10 perfect reviews (e.g., five stars out of five) will be less believable than one with 1,000 less-than-perfect reviews (e.g., 4.2 stars out of five).
But what if you have too many negative reviews?
Several key factors play a role in how people look at reviews. Chief among them are recency and authenticity. The more recent and believable the reviews are, the more influential they will be, too. Therefore, continually striving to increase the quantity and quality of reviews helps add that extra sense of credibility. Stale and fake reviews can be just as hurtful as negative reviews.
It goes without saying that fake reviews are common these days and sometimes hard to spot. For this reason, the reputation of the reviewer is just as important as the review itself. Called “Trust Flow” in SEO, the trustworthiness of the reviewer transfers onto the business being reviewed. If the source of the review is genuine and trustworthy, the review will carry more weight.
But fake or not, negative reviews will affect people’s perceptions. Ostensibly, sentiment is another key factor that can influence people’s perceptions. Positive reviews will always outdo negative ones and negative reviews can be damaging to a business. But in either case, responsiveness (or the lack thereof) can influence perceptions and sometimes even more so than sentiment.
Studies show that responsiveness improves trust. For example, reviews will be more believable if they had responses from the business owner — even if they’re only simple acknowledgements and the reviews are predominantly positive. Conversely, 70% of consumers said they will trust a business if they respond to negative reviews just as equally as they trust those with positive ones.
Moreover, the study also showed that a surprising 94% of respondents said they still buy from companies that respond to their negative reviews. I believe it’s because they communicate customer service and the reviewer feels heard. In fact, your response to a negative review can sometimes be an opportunity to create more credibility, positivity, and traction than a positive review can.
For this reason, responding to reviews is paramount. Even if the reviews are less than desirable, responsiveness amplifies trust signals for both users and search engines. Negative reviews may be detrimental, but actively responding to them — and doing so politely, positively, and professionally — will mitigate the negative effects of those reviews quite significantly.
Simply put, people care where they buy from but they care more when a business cares.
There are three types of online reviews:
- Via map listings, e.g., Google Business, Bing Places, Apple, etc.
- Via review sites, e.g., TripAdvisor, Yelp, industry directories, etc.
- Via social pages, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.
If you haven’t claimed your profile on these local listing sites, you should. In addition to using them as marketing channels, it allows you to keep a finger on your reputation’s pulse and to respond quickly to anything unfavourable the moment it’s posted. More importantly, when dealing with fake reviews (and believe me, you will get them), it allows you to deal with them more efficiently.
Once you have claimed these profiles, you will be notified when people post reviews. When you get positive ones, it’s an opportunity for you to respond and thank them. You can also inject some marketing by mentioning your brand, another product or service, or a special offer. When you do get negative reviews, however, here are three things you should do to help you deal with them:
- Amplify positive reviews,
- Increase positive reviews, and
- Remove the negative ones.
Respond to every review in a timely manner. Whether they’re positive or negative, ignoring and failing to acknowledge reviews can hurt your SEO. Google has publicly confirmed that they prefer to send traffic to responsive businesses. Therefore, actively replying to reviews improves your rankings because it shows Google that you value your clients, and that you’re committed to helping them.
Reviews that contain keywords boost your visibility when users search using those terms. You can also encourage reviews by offering suggestions on what to write about, which can help frame reviews and include keywords. Adding keywords to your responses will also help amplify reviews further. But include them naturally, and don’t force or stuff keywords into your responses.
Furthermore, use the opportunity to ask the reviewer to share their positive comments (on their social media profiles, for example). You can and should ask for their permission to share it on your end as well. But a better way is to ask them to tag you when they share it on their end. This way, you will be able to find it, like it, comment on it, follow it, and reshare it to your own followers.
As for negative reviews, keep this in mind: never respond negatively to negative reviews. Avoid being confrontational and leave your emotions out of it. Stay factual and objective, but be kind and courteous — even when it seems disparaging. Adding to the hostility will only exacerbate things. Even a mere passive-aggressive or snarky tone doesn’t look good, and people will see through it.
Responding negatively creates three important challenges:
- For one, you will push people away from leaving any reviews. Or you will anger those who might be on the fence and invite them to come to the reviewer’s aid by adding their own negative comments. At the very least, it will cause people to feel uncomfortable by seeing how you treat people, which will create a poor impression of you.
- Second, legitimate reviews can only be changed by the reviewer. Taking the high road and showing some grace can deflate the reviewer’s negative stance. Hopefully, by showing you care and want to resolve the issue, you may get them to modify their review to a more positive one. But a hostile approach will definitely destroy any chances of them doing so.
- Third, what you reveal may inadvertently break privacy laws. Negative replies are seen as retaliatory, and you may be tempted to disclose information about the reviewer’s purchase or inadvertently reveal previously undisclosed details, such as their location, health, or finances. This may land you in hot water — even if the reviewer is wrong or misleading.
So always respond to negative reviews professionally, tactfully, and objectively. I’ll return to this later as it is important.
You cannot and should never influence the type of review. Doing so may cause you more damage than a negative review will. You can ask for feedback and even suggest leaving a positive review, too. But with many platforms, influencing, paying for, or forcing positive reviews in any way, such as by offering gifts, rewards, or conditional incentives, are strictly forbidden.
However, more often than not, people will never leave reviews if you never ask them. So keep asking for feedback. Getting more positive reviews will improve your average rating, even if you have a few negative ones. But also, if some negative reviews cannot be changed or removed, getting more positive reviews will push the negative ones down in the search results, making them less visible.
Here are three ways to increase reviews.
Ask often but you can ask in different ways. For example, conduct a survey or offer a questionnaire in which you ask people to post their responses to a review site. You can include links to a review form in order to make it easy for them to leave a review. You can provide a few examples or suggest what to include, which will give them some ideas but also frame the request in a positive way.
But if you feel your reviews will be negative for whatever reason (such as reactions to unpopular changes, unexpected events, or unfavourable news), one way to preemptively manage negative reviews is to collect feedback directly. You can address the negative ones privately, immediately, and appropriately, and you can send links to those who submitted positive ones and invite them to post their reviews publicly.
In the same vein, you can explicitly ask your customers to send any negative feedback to you directly instead of posting them online. This way, you can tell them that this will allow you to address their concerns faster and more efficiently, and to make the necessary changes with their help. Most will oblige. You can even offer an incentive for doing so as a means of improving your business.
Incentives can be helpful not only to generate a larger quantity of reviews but also to increase returning customers, such as hosting giveaways that include gift cards and discounts on future purchases. If you incentivize reviews, however, remember that the incentive is only to leave a review and not to influence it. You want to encourage feedback and not what it should say.
Also, some industries forbid this practice entirely. Professional services (such as doctors and lawyers) and businesses governed by licensing bodies have strict rules to follow — above and beyond those from platforms like Google or Yelp. Paying for reviews, irrespective of the request, is unethical and illegal in many jurisdictions. So be careful and check with a legal professional first.
Making it easier for people to leave a review will increase your chances significantly. By embedding reviews on your website, you not only show social proof but also make the reviews clickable and easy for visitors to post one of their own. If you have graphics of reviews or logos of places on which you have reviews, make them linkable and include a link for them to leave a review as well.
Also, insert links in strategic locations on your website, such as on “thank you” pages, contact pages, location pages, about pages, directory pages, FAQ pages, even 404 and search result pages. Add them to the sidebars in your blog and in your website’s footer. If you publish an email newsletter, include links in your welcome emails and with each issue. Don’t forget your email signature, too.
Remove any friction in the review process by linking directly to the form. Time adds friction, too. To increase your chances of getting positive reviews, use timing to your advantage and ask for a review during the most opportune moments, such as when the order is fresh on their minds. Add links on order confirmation pages and emails, and in post-purchase consumption tutorials.
There are countless review management tools that allow you to proactively invite and remind your clients to leave reviews. From prompting users automatically and offering prewritten templates users can use, to giving them the ability to share their reviews on their social media profiles, these tools can be integrated into your marketing automation workflows and CRM software.
You can create contests and gamify the reviewing process. You can also incorporate reviews in success stories, case studies, and client spotlights on your blogs or in your newsletters. Doing so shows your gratitude and gives your clients added exposure. If you create distributable assets such as PDFs, white papers, or software, invite users to leave a review as appreciation for the freebie.
Let’s not forget good old advertising. Some companies conduct campaigns for the express purpose of asking for feedback and generating reviews. If you’re hosting a giveaway, for example, advertising it and even making the call to action (CTA) tied to the review process can improve them substantially. But as with any incentive, just be sure this is permitted in your industry.
You don’t want to disallow negative reviews or delete them outright, even if you can. If they are legitimate, they provide balance and authenticity let alone precious feedback for your business. But in the case of fake and fraudulent reviews, you can and should report them. If they’re done for the express purpose of harming your reputation, there are steps you can take to have them removed.
Many map listings, review sites, and local directories offer ways to contact support and report fake reviews. In some cases, you can also provide supporting documentation and offer proof that the review is fake. If possible, provide as much information as possible. The more details you provide, the greater the chances the platform will remove the review — and perhaps ban the reviewer, too.
I once worked with a cosmetic doctor who had a rogue staff member. When she left, the disgruntled employee unreservedly posted negative reviews about her former workplace. Her comments were quite damaging and they made the doctor look intentionally bad. She was never a client and the review was obviously posted in retaliation. So it was reported and removed within hours.
Ultimately, claiming your listing makes it easier to report and remove fake reviews, and gives you access to that platform’s support channels. In the case of significantly defamatory reviews or those that violate laws (such as copyright infringement or cyberbullying), you can hire legal assistance to apply legal countermeasures and even uncover the identity of anonymous attackers.
Your business reputation should be a positive one regardless of reviews. If it is, online reviews will add to and confirm your existing stellar reputation in the eyes of both users and search engines. On average, businesses with the most ratings tend to pull the most attention and clicks — even when competitors outrank them. So you want to get online reviews, even if you’re already awesome.
But regardless of how stellar your reputation is, you’re bound to get a few bad reviews from time to time. The more popular you become, the greater are your chances of getting them. When you do, the best step to take is to respond to them. While negative reviews may influence your customers’ decisions, ignoring them is the worse thing you can do and can hurt your business even more.
Your responses are marketing activities in and of themselves.
Reviews may reflect what you sell but they’re often an indication of customer service. If a purchase doesn’t work out for whatever reason, people will often leave bad reviews after they have tried to get their situation resolved or their money back. So the way you handle reviews says a lot about you and how you treat your customers, and it probably says more than the reviews themselves.
Moreover, even if you have great rankings, ratings will appear next to your search result, which will drive attention and clickthroughs. When it’s alongside competitors with better ratings, you are not only losing traction but also inadvertently helping your competitors through the element of contrast. For example, a competitor with a low 3.6-star rating may look more enticing than your 3.2.
Obviously, if your reviews are predominantly bad, you have much bigger issues to address. But you should always welcome a few bad reviews and appreciate them. Reviews are opportunities to know what to improve or what needs fixing. Most people are reticent and don’t leave reviews, so having a few bad ones may be indicative of something you and other clients might be missing.
Nevertheless, how you engage with your clients says as much about your business as it does about what you offer. You may have the best product or service in the world. But if you fail to respond to negative reviews or if you respond poorly, you will deter new clients who know little about you. So the way you respond to negative reviews is important and not something to be taken lightly.
To guide you, here are a few steps you can take.
Claim your listing on the most popular review sites and business directories. They will notify you of any reviews that come in. But people can post reviews on other lesser-known sites, such as private blogs, niche-specific review sites, and social media posts from non-followers. So set up Google alerts and review trackers to be notified when someone talks about your business.
You can get notified when any keyword you specify shows up. Include alerts for your names (e.g., your brand, your business, your products, your services, your staff, etc), your address, your phone numbers, your suppliers, your social media profiles (such as your usernames and hashtags), your website address, your email address (or addresses), your clients, and even your competitors.
Clients are giving you precious feedback. But sometimes, things can get confused, exaggerated, or coloured with commentary that’s irrelevant and filled with superlatives. Acknowledge their pain and frustration, but try to understand the real issue behind the review. If anything is not clear, try to clarify what they’re saying. Ask questions or, better yet, continue the discussion privately.
Reviews provide you with tons of market research. Letting reviewers know you understand the issue and how you intend to use their feedback will go a long way. It’s also an opportunity to provide customer service and educate your customers if they missed anything — but be genuinely helpful and not dismissive or critical. Most of the time, reviewers just want to vent and be heard.
Always thank the reviewer. Show appreciation because all reviews, good or bad, are important. But with negative reviews in particular, even if they’re fake, stay objective and maintain a professional stance. You can even use the opportunity to politely point out the deception in a way that doesn’t appear retaliatory and with which other readers can see the obvious error or intent.
For example, you can respond with the following:
“Thank you for your review. We’re sorry you’ve had this experience with us. We want to make this right. Unfortunately, we have no record or recollection of your order, nor can we verify your identity. If you really are a client of ours, we would like to investigate this further. Please contact us at [email or phone number] with your order details and ask for [name] so we can resolve this issue immediately.”
With fake defamatory reviews, you can respond with the following:
“Thank you for your review. Unfortunately, we have no record or recollection of your order, nor can we verify your identity. We take these matters very seriously. Your remarks are highly inaccurate and appear to be in violation of [Google’s] review policy. Our company has always maintained the highest level of quality and care in our [X] years in business, so this review suggests you are either a fake account or a competitor using illegal defamatory tactics.”
Malicious reviews need to be dealt with, and each platform has a proper procedure for reporting these unfortunate situations. Some platforms like Google explicitly forbid reviews that include, among others, impersonations, hate speech, sexual language, threats of violence, illegal activities, phishing attempts, and harassment such as stalking and cyberbullying. Report them here.
But remember that reporting legitimate reviews, no matter how negative or harsh, will be futile. Emotionally charged reviews may feel like a personal attack, so a cooling-off period may be helpful before you respond. Just keep in mind that only those that are verifiably wrong, harmful, or illegal will be taken down — if they’re not taken down, then consider legal assistance in such situations.
Real negative reviews will happen from time to time. But be professional, courteous, objective, and helpful in your response. Thank them for their review, acknowledge their issue, and let them know you are listening and intend to make it right. Explain the steps you will take to solve it — this is also a perfect opportunity for you to share the process to follow when resolving such issues.
In your reply, never reveal any personal information or force the reviewer to do so. Unless the reviewer has explicitly mentioned it in their review, discussing purchases or situations that reveal sensitive information — such as health, legal, insurance, and financial data — may violate privacy laws in many jurisdictions. Always ask the reviewer to contact you directly (see below).
Keep your responses short and sweet. With negative reviews specifically, don’t go into detail or drag the conversation further. If the reviewer is asking for more or you need any clarifications, take the conversation offline. If you try to explain yourself and say too much, users may see it as defensiveness or an attempt to deflect and even bully the reviewer, which will be counterproductive.
So with every negative review, ask them to contact you directly to resolve the situation. Offer contact information (such as an email or phone number) and the name of the person they can speak with directly, preferably someone with the authority to fix the issue. This way, they can discuss their problem in-depth, answer questions, and refrain from adding any further to their frustration.
Suggest the next step. If you’ve successfully resolved the complaint, ask the reviewer to amend their review. A negative-turned-positive review can actually make you look better than a positive review will. It’s also better to have the reviewer update an existing review than it is to have them retract it. By keeping the review, you won’t lose any traction you gained from an SEO perspective.
Acknowledge their effort in helping you resolve the situation. You can thank them publicly and even offer an unexpected gift in appreciation for their feedback, such as a discount on their next purchase. Remember that your gift should not influence or entice the user to change their review. But offering one after they’ve done so will show that you value their feedback and assistance.
Your reputation is important for obvious reasons: it creates a positive impression, expands your influence, and distinguishes you from your competitors. But with SEO specifically, your reputation adds to your E-A-T signals, which greatly impact the perception of the quality of your content. Quality content is an important ranking factor, therefore your reputation plays an important role.
For this reason, online reviews can support and amplify your reputation. However, they can also help to improve your online visibility by providing additional ranking opportunities — such as when reviews include keywords people search for. Aside from the SEO benefits, keywords also may make it easier for you to search for specific reviews if you ever need to find them again.
In the end, remember that more and more people are using reviews when making purchases. Your reputation will almost always be part of their buying process — either when your customers find you or when they’re buying from you. So pay attention to what people say about you and how you respond. A bad review may be bad, but a good response will always work in your favour.